Friday, October 19, 2007
City On The Edge of Forever 1
City on the Edge of Forever
It is a classic TOS episode: Kirk and Spock travel back in time to fix the damage done by McCoy. They find that the damage is saving a peace activist who would have delayed America's entry into World War II long enough for the Nazi's to finish their atomic weapons research.
But there are, in history, many cities on the edge of forever. Jerusalem has been that city, as had Rome. I would say that people in the west do not understand how Beijing has been the city on the edge of forever.
Second Life may become, and wishes to be, a city on the edge of forever.
The Poisonous Summer
For Second Life's residents August was a poisonous month, instability, the collapse of Ginko, the gambling ban, the land collapse, the shock of resident growth flattening out when every assumption in Second Life was that it would grow steadily forever combined to rape confidence. There were many maladies and many anxieties, even companies tied at the him to Linden Labs made equivocal statements about the future. The impact is still not over: in the computer world, a company that raises prices for the same service is more than an oddity, it is a freak. LL just slapped VAT on as a surtax, effectively raising prices by 20% for its European paying members. Fears rattle the community about property rights and LL's attitudes towards user created content mechanisms.
I will remember in August even high priced service providers telling me they felt the pinch, how club owners and well known content providers saw sales plummet. How many people talked to me saying they were on their way out of Second Life. I heard girls who worked for the best known clubs tell me that there were long dry days. The owners of the most famous PG dance lounge on SL left to pursue their own real world. One fertile hunting ground after another snapped. It seemed as if there was no bottom, seems still, as if there is no bottom. I remember an all night conversation with a friend about how the future of the internet didn't seem to be what it used to be. Even small events took on disproportionate weight.
But if August is when the hammer came down, July could only be called a month of giddy anxiety. There was a looming fear, or rather a cloud of looming fears. What would voice do to those who wanted to keep their identities private? What would the Bragg case mean. It turned out that the most important decision that LL makes is the land supply and money supply decisions, and what the populace did not generally grasp is that LL was about to extract 40% of the value invested as "land" and pocket it by a massive mainland dump. The results took down those who had bought islands hoping to resell them as high end residential areas. The fee increase from $195 to $295 has given a massive structural advantage to those who were island owners first, even as mainland holders saw their investments become unstable.
It is a moment I felt over and over again: friends leaving forever from Second Life, never to return. The poison still courses through the veins of Second Life, celebratory mood of SL4B turned to sour acrimony. Organizations like Second Citizen collapsed in flames and feuding. Even adversity smashed people apart producing such hate filled attempts at dictatorship as the "Metaverse Republic." Crashes and inventory losses, no copy objects merely vanishing when rez failure occured, all contributed to a rising anger that was echoed even from former people very close to LL.
September rolled through and nothing seemed to get better. The tide has gone out, but it has not yet turned. However, perhaps, it is stirring.
The Winds and Waves of Change
This upheaval is currently obvious in my own line of work: the Big Three of months and months of my existence: Bad Girls, Arsheba and Elements, have been swamped. Bad financial decisions capsized Arsheba, which retreated to a boutique club status. Elements ended its fighting of the camping wars, and held on. BGs did as well, to drop out of the top 20. Instead throw back clubs Lucifer's and the Galaxy, knock offs of Element's successful formula of a bland inside builds, constant events, campers and lag, and a relentless focus on the club goers rather than the product. All that is old is new again. Someone going to Elements now finds better dancing, better announcing, better staff, and fewer people. Instead the Galaxy is the place that most resembles the Elements of earlier in the Year. Lucifer's is a Bad Girls wannabe. However, they are both fires stoked by camping, and it remains to be seen whether they can monetize the camping they have. However, they have already transfigured the landscape of the top of the direct sex club world. The four major content clubs in the direct sex world are now Lucifer's, Bad Girls, The Galaxy and Elements. The differences is that BG's and Elements are established, and it is yet to be clear that Galaxy and Lucifer's can monetize their campers and camp.
I will say straight up that any escort that buys an ad at Lucifer's is wasting her money, and yes, I did that experiment. Already competitors are complaing of Lucifer's cut throat tactics. Instead I would put it this way. Lucifer's and the Glaaxy are one step, a bare step, but a clear step, above teh camper clubs, which have almost nothing, except in the way of pretense, of content. Lucifer's and the Galaxy supply social context, and if it is of the ordinary kind run by better people who know more about what they are doing than an average club, it is still very real.
The winds of change have blown steadily, and they are pushing up a wave of change. This wave of change can be seen clearly in the Phat Cat's redesign.
It is colder, cleaner, more Mediterranean and less tropical. Less Vegas, more Monaco. It's music is rougher while its visuals are smoother. It's lay out is easier, while its colors are harsher. Out is Vegas for its inspiration, in is Monaco. It no longer has it's old smarm, but it's charm is more calculated, more self-conscious. It is classical, where the old phats was fopulently romantic. It is still, by far and away, the best ballroom to meat people, and if anything, its standard of building has gone up. It's landscaping more carefully and artfully arranged. Phat's has accepted the "big box" model, and executed it to perfection. It looks, to all eyes, like a Roman city from the air touched with the medieval. Artic Trottier has not produced the richest club, but he has produced a clean and elegant build.
There has also been a hard eye applied to their lag issues, the current frame time of 22ms on average has a very spare 9ms of script time, and the bulk of the spikes are from "agents" that's us, the avatars. It is not going to win any speed awards as a server, but the move to the big box concept has dramatically reduced perceptual lag as well. Eden and NC-17 had it right, they just couldn't get there.
Another clear sign of the change is the latest wave of design. As I foretold "rezzilicious" is the wave of the future: detail that creates a powerful sense of texture as a whole and hits the eye with its unity and ornate detail. Gone the flat look. It was inevitable.
The clearest example is Last Call. Long the home of the anti-fabulous look, a place that I derided as "the place for people who need a first life even more than they need a second life," it has gone to more textured. It is still..... hmmmmmm... soft neo-1965, tinged with a retro-squared effect of the kind of retro that that era did. While it is relentlessly unfabulous and str*, even people who treated it as an object of derision, like myself, no longer do. This is because the Last Call Look now is like the new Phats: polished, more in control, detailed but on a budget, with spare lines that frame its effects. It is a cool, smooth day that we live in, and Last Call has nailed the desire for an elegant laid back glamor and understatment to showing off what is a vivid technique. This is important because Last Call is one of the most influential design houses in Second Life, and how I will get to later. But if Last Call is doing it, fairly soon the low tier retailers that are in the "newbie-economy" (is there a word the newbeconomy? Should there be?) will be doing the same things. It is the exemplar in clothing of the detailed enough, faux-real school in the prete a porter world of SL fashion. If you are an ordinary female avatar here to play, if you don't look like you shop at Last Call... you probably soon will. And that won't elicit the glamour giggles or tete a tete titters it used to.
An example of this mid 1960's influenced retro is the up and coming designer, Tuli . As with Last Call, understatement and restraint are the words of the day, and there is thinking with the bust line thing going on here. You can only know what I mean. Here retro gown with flowers at the top of this page is what many other designers in ordinary malls are aiming for.
Another convert to the school of rezzilicious is Nicky Ree, whose Swan gown makes an immediate and powerful impact, it is one of the most important signature pieces on Second Life. From "Nicky Who?" to "Nicky Woohoo!" in a single release. Her recent sale was almost a party for those of us who have to look high concept Hollywood for our day. It was the most important sale event since Ekatrina's.
But as this glamor gown with 1950's influence shows: it is not a one outfit wonder, but a cultivated new approach from this designer.
Another wave comes out of the as yet unheralded LeeZu Baxter. The clean side of rezzilicious is not here, instead LZB specializes in an almost casual disregard for the coolness that is in fashion on the other side. Wild is not to strong a word in places as with the roughe flexidress that is, to me, the most perfect flamenco outfit yet on sl, and the Nuomi series the best salsa dresses.
What these designers taken together tell us is that far from an ebbing of powers or creativity, Second Life's post boom time is oone of an increasing wave of creativity.
But how to reconcile this with the back to the past, and I mean past as in before I came to SL by at least a year, club movement?
It's about advantage and avatars.